By Jim Umhoefer
Carlton County. 3 miles east of Carlton on Highway 210. Highway map index: L-19
The St. Louis River, which flows through Jay Cooke State Park, has been the connecting link between the upper Mississippi River and Lake Superior for centuries. Like other rivers that spill into Lake Superior, it plunges for several hundred feet down rocky canyons in the space of a few miles, creating impassable falls and rapids. To reach calmer water above these obstacles, the Indians explorers and fur traders had to portage around them.
The 7-mile-long trail that bypassed the spectacular rocky gorge of the lower St. Louis River was called the Grand Portage. It was a rough trail of steep hills and swamps that began at the foot of the rapids above Fond du Lac and ended near Maple Island. It was divided into 19 pauses (rest stops) spaced one-third to one-half mile apart. To portage the freight, each voyageur carried two or three packs weighing up to 90 pounds each. These were supported by a portage strap, which passed around the voyageur's forehead and reached to the small of his back. Once he reached a pause with his load, the voyageur would jog back to the last stop for more packs. It took an average of three to five days for a crew to complete the Grand Portage, sometimes longer under bad conditions. It was backbreaking labor, and the voyageurs would be plastered with mud and covered with mosquito and fly bites. Read more: